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Press release: Divorcees risk losing out on pensions as just 14% of divorces split retirement assets


Previously married couples are at risk of ignoring one of the most valuable assets in divorce settlements, the latest figures from the Family Law Courts shows.

The figures show there were 118,408 petitions filed for dissolution of marriage in 2018, but only 14% contained some sort of pension settlement order. This is despite a recent trend in people getting divorced later in life. According to the Office for National Statistics, the median age of divorce for men and women has increased by 10 years between 1987 and 2017.[1]

As people divorce later, this group have less time to build a retirement income if they did not have a pension of their own, meaning dividing this asset is of vital importance to avoid pension poverty.

This is a particular issue for women as 45% aged 65 or over have no private pension wealth, separate figures from the ONS show.

When couples divorce they have different options for how they divide assets between them, including pensions. The primary methods used for pensions are:

  • Offsetting, where the pension assets can be offset against other assets of the divorcing parties.
  • Pension sharing orders, where pension assets are divided at the time of divorce and there is a clean financial break.
  • Pensions attachments orders, also known as pension earmarking, where the pension provider of one party pays an agreed amount direct to the former spouse when the pension rights come into payment. This does not represent a clean financial break between the couple and risks the loss of future income for the former spouse if the person with the pension rights dies before retiring or the former spouse remarries.

Since 2015 the use of pension attachment orders has increased by 61%, while pension sharing orders have risen by 41%. However, while both types of pension orders have increased in popularity, they still represent a relatively small percentage of total divorce cases.


Petitions filed for dissolution of marriage

Pension sharing orders

Pension attachment orders

Total pension settlements









































2019 (Q1-Q3)






Jon GreerJon Greer, head of retirement policy at Quilter, comments: “Divorce is an emotional and stressful period for those who have to go through it. However, it’s important that people think of these valuable assets when considering how they split their money. This is particularly problematic given the average age of divorcees and it is more likely that a woman will not have any sizable pension of their own.

“The relatively small number of pension settlements may in part be down to the understanding of the complex area of pension law by divorce practitioners and their clients. There may also be a dominance of pension offsetting for a number of reasons, perhaps one party wishing, for example, to stay in the marital home in lieu of receiving part of their ex-spouses pension rights. 

“However, pension freedoms have increased awareness of pensions and it now appears that practitioners are seeking to improve the knowledge of pensions divorce law and the consistency of its application to the alternative options available to deal with pension rights. As a result, divorcees need to make sure they are receiving professional advice, both legal and financial, before, during and after any divorce case to ensure any settlement is fair for all parties involved. It should not be acceptable for pensions to be ignored, since whilst they might not have an immediate impact they will do so later in someone’s life.

“Statistics reveal pension attachment orders are rising in popularity at a greater rate than pension sharing orders. It isn’t entirely clear why this is the case as attachment orders have significant weakness compared to other options available to deal with pension assets. For example, in certain cases subsequent factors, like the ex-spouse remarrying, can result in the ex-spouse receiving nothing.

“With rules around divorce potentially becoming more relaxed in the future via no-fault divorce laws, we could see a further increase in do it yourself divorces where specialist advice is not sought. This could see many miss out on important pension benefits.

“Not only that but in light of pension freedoms, people with existing pension attachment orders should seriously consider reviewing their agreement and take legal advice as the change in rules brought about by pension freedoms may mean  that their attachment order will not provide what was intended.”

[1] In 2017 the median age of divorce for women was 43.5 compared to 33.7 in 1987. For men in 1987 the median age stood at 36.4, whereas in 2017 it was 46.0.

For more information contact

Gregor Davidson020 7002 716407917

Notes to Editors:

About Quilter plc:

Quilter plc is a leading wealth management business in the UK and internationally, helping to create prosperity for the generations of today and tomorrow.

Quilter plc oversees £95.3 billion in customer investments (as at 31 March 2020).

It has an adviser and customer offering spanning: financial advice; investment platforms; multi-asset investment solutions; and discretionary fund management.

The business is comprised of two segments: Advice and Wealth Management and Wealth Platforms.

Advice and Wealth Management encompasses the financial advice business, Quilter Financial Planning; the discretionary fund management business, Quilter Cheviot; and Quilter Investors, the Multi-asset investment solutions business.

Wealth Platforms includes Old Mutual Wealth UK platform and Quilter International, including AAM Advisory in Singapore.

The Old Mutual Wealth Heritage life assurance business was acquired by ReAssure Group Plc on 2 January 2020.

Since its IPO in June 2018, Quilter plc’s businesses have progressively rebranded to Quilter, as follows: 

  • Quilter Financial Planning (previously Intrinsic)
  • Quilter Private Client Advisers (previously Old Mutual Wealth Private Client Advisers)
  • Quilter Financial Advisers (previously Charles Derby Group)
  • Quilter Financial Adviser School
  • Quilter Cheviot
  • Quilter Investors
  • Old Mutual Wealth (becoming Quilter Investment Platform)
  • Quilter International (previously Old Mutual International)

This press release is for journalists only and should not be relied upon by financial advisers or customers.

Please remember that past performance is not a guide to future performance. The value of investments and the income from them can go down as well as up and investors may not get back any of the amount originally invested. Exchange rate changes may cause the value of overseas investments to rise or fall.

This communication is issued by Quilter plc.  Registered office: Millennium Bridge House, 2 Lambeth Hill, London EC4V 4AJ, United Kingdom. Registered number: 6404270.  Registered in England.